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S Jaishankar to participate in key meeting on Afghanistan this week

Screenshot 2021-09-14 012548

External affairs minister S Jaishankar will travel to Tajikistan this week to participate in a key meeting on Afghanistan and hold talks with counterparts from several countries, including Iran, on the rapidly evolving situation in the war-torn country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will virtually join the summit of heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on September 17, while Jaishankar is set to represent India in the meeting on Afghanistan of heads of state of SCO and the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) the same day.

Jaishankar will hold several bilateral meetings while in the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe during September 16-17, including with his new Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity. He is also expected to meet Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

Abdollahian, who assumed office last month, was set to travel to India on Monday but deferred his visit because he will meet Jaishankar in Dushanbe, the people said. A fresh date for Abdollahian’s visit is yet to be fixed though he is expected to travel to New Delhi soon.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will also be in Dushanbe, though there was no word on whether Jaishankar would meet them. The people cited above ruled out the possibility of a meeting with Qureshi in view of the strained ties with Pakistan.

High-ranking delegations from 17 countries and the secretary generals of SCO and CSTO are gathering in Dushanbe for the summit and the meeting on Afghanistan. CSTO is a military alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Jaishankar’s meetings on the margins of the SCO Summit will be an opportunity to compare notes on the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan and the way forward, especially in view of India’s security concerns regarding Pakistan’s role in the country and its military establishment’s close ties with the Taliban.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, India has asserted that Afghan territory must not be used for terrorism or anti-India activities. It has repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of inclusiveness of the “dispensation” in Kabul while indicating it is in no rush regarding the recognition of the Taliban regime.

Iran has kept open its mission in Kabul and continued interactions with the Taliban leadership, though it has its own security concerns regarding Afghanistan, including the well-being of the Shia Hazara minority.

Jaishankar discussed the situation in Afghanistan during a phone call with Abdollahian on September 1. A readout from Iran’s foreign ministry had quoted Abdollahian as saying that the “international community, including regional nations, must join hands to defuse the crisis in Afghanistan”. He added that it was Iran’s policy to “support the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan made up of all Afghan ethnic groups”.

The readout quoted Jaishankar as saying that “Iran and India need to continue consultations on Afghanistan”.

The people cited above added Russia too had informed the Indian side in recent meetings that there should be no rush in recognising the Taliban regime. This was a message conveyed by Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s security council, at a meeting with senior Indian security officials in New Delhi on September 8, and in President Vladimir Putin’s interventions during discussions at a virtual Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) Summit the following day.